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Keywords:

  • adult neurogenesis;
  • brain-derived neurotrophic factor;
  • bromodeoxyuridine;
  • doublecortin;
  • prenatal nutrition;
  • Sprague–Dawley rat

Abstract

Increased dietary intake of choline early in life improves performance of adult rats on memory tasks and prevents their age-related memory decline. Because neurogenesis in the adult hippocampus also declines with age, we investigated whether prenatal choline availability affects hippocampal neurogenesis in adult Sprague–Dawley rats and modifies their neurogenic response to environmental stimulation. On embryonic days (ED) 12–17, pregnant rats ate a choline-supplemented (SUP-5 g/kg), choline sufficient (SFF-1.1 g/kg), or choline-free (DEF) semisynthetic diet. Adult offspring either remained in standard housing or were given 21 daily visits to explore a maze. On the last ten exploration days, all rats received daily injections of 5-bromo-2-deoxyuridine (BrdU, 100 mg/kg). The number of BrdU+ cells was significantly greater in the dentate gyrus in SUP rats compared to SFF or DEF rats. While maze experience increased the number of BrdU+ cells in SFF rats to the level seen in the SUP rats, this enriching experience did not alter cell proliferation in DEF rats. Similar patterns of cell proliferation were obtained with immunohistochemical staining for neuronal marker doublecortin, confirming that diet and exploration affected hippocampal neurogenesis. Moreover, hippocampal levels of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) were increased in SUP rats as compared to SFF and DEF animals. We conclude that prenatal choline intake has enduring effects on adult hippocampal neurogenesis, possibly via up-regulation of BDNF levels, and suggest that these alterations of neurogenesis may contribute to the mechanism of life-long changes in cognitive function governed by the availability of choline during gestation.